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Story Pirates gets its ideas from kids, and then the fun begins

Andrew Barbato (left) and Alex Nader, shown onstage with Story Pirates, cohost “SPTV.” The two Massachusetts natives first performed together as teenagers at Wheelock Family Theatre.Rebecca J Michelson

When Alex Nader and Andrew Barbato perform Friday in Medford as part of Story Pirates: The Amazing Adventure Tour, it won’t be the first time the pair has shared a stage in Greater Boston. That happened 15 years ago, in a production of “Peter Pan” at the Wheelock Family Theatre when they were teenagers.

Story Pirates is the latest collaboration for Nader and Barbato, who have been friends since they met in regional theater circles as kids. Nader, 32, is from North Reading, while Barbato, 33, grew up in Stoneham. Both now live in New York, where they cohost “SPTV,” a Story Pirates program on PBS that started during the pandemic.


“I love this company and I love my job, but the fact that I do it with my best friend of, I don’t know, 16 years is pretty insane,” Nader says.

From its origins nearly 20 years ago as an improvisational theater troupe in New York City that built performances around prompts from children in the audience, Story Pirates has branched into the PBS show, an award-winning podcast, collaborations with Dr. Seuss, basketball star Stephen Curry, and the Roots drummer Questlove, and now the company’s first national tour. The core concept remains the same: “That kids are creative geniuses,” says Lee Overtree, the creative director of Story Pirates, who cofounded the arts education group in the early aughts.

Sketches and songs on the podcast and “SPTV” are based on stories that kids submit through the Story Pirates website. Topics have included a tree that knows how to walk, a forgetful dad who inadvertently wrecks a long-anticipated outing, and a hamster that plays college football. The tour also features an improv component called the “story creation zone,” along with fan-favorite songs from the podcast with titles like “Cats Sit on You” and “Fart Out Loud Day.” In addition to Nader and Barbato, the cast includes Eric Austin, co-host of the podcast, and a video appearance by DJ Squirm-a-Lot, “everyone’s favorite worm DJ.”


“How the cast is assembled is very much like the Justice League,” says Nader, who joined Story Pirates in 2017. “Each of us has a specialty. So there are some really powerhouse singers. There are comedians that are very active in the industry. And then there are musicians.”

The 12-date cross-country road trip has been a long time coming.

“This kind of tour has literally been my dream for Story Pirates for so long,” Overtree says. “We were really close to doing that in 2019, and then the pandemic delayed us a few years and it felt like it took us that long to get back to the spot where it seemed feasible.”

Though the pandemic shut down Story Pirates’ ability to perform in person, it opened up other avenues. As school and work for many families migrated online, Story Pirates wanted to also reach households that didn’t have reliable internet access. Someone suggested a PBS show. Barbato and Nader happened to be roommates at the time, which put them in a unique position to create and host the program.

“They were like, ‘What if we sent you a green screen and a camera? Could you make a show from your home?’” says Nader. “We said yes, and they sent us — I’ll never forget the day when we got a giant equipment order in our apartment hallway, in Brooklyn.”


“It was magical, honestly,” says Barbato, who joined Story Pirates the year after Nader. “Stakes were low. It was just us kind of getting to have fun and figure out what it was as we went along, and it’s developed into something that I think we’re both really proud of.”

The cast of Story Pirates: The Amazing Adventure Tour, which comes to Medford's Chevalier Theatre on Friday.Rebecca J Michelson

Story Pirates evolved in largely the same way. The troupe got started with weekly performances in the basement of the Drama Book Shop near Times Square, co-produced by CEO and cofounder Benjamin Salka, with Lin-Manuel Miranda and future “Hamilton” director Thomas Kail. The company got its first big break in 2008 when Jon Stewart, then host of “The Daily Show,” mentioned Story Pirates in an appearance on “Larry King Live.” Soon Story Pirates had a show on satellite radio that ran for five years. The troupe in 2009 set up a West Coast branch in Los Angeles at the Geffen Playhouse. The podcast followed in 2013. All the while, Story Pirates had been doing in-person performances at schools and events like Wilco’s Solid Sound Festival in North Adams.

As circumstances and technology change, the group is quick to adapt.

“There’s sort of a ‘Yes, and’ mentality that fuels improv comedy, but that has also seeped into the cultural values that make the organization work,” Salka says. “In 25 years, my greatest hope is that Story Pirates will still be around. The products or programs or projects that we’re working on will look totally different, but the heart of them will be exactly the same. They will still be about a reverence for kids’ own ideas and stories and passions and perspectives.”


Nader and Barbato are focused on the next few weeks of touring, but Nader is definitive about the role of Story Pirates in her life.

“It’s my favorite thing that I’ve ever been a part of in my entire career,” she says. “I think that it’s special, it’s unique, and fun to do.”


At Chevalier Theatre, 30 Forest St., Medford. Sept. 22 at 7 p.m. Tickets from $20.